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Flawed regulation leaves asylum seekers destitute says new research


Many asylum seekers in Leeds are destitute or homeless because of flaws in the benefits system according to researchers at the University of Leeds. The project, which was funded by ESRC, reveals that forced migrants in the city are often denied benefits and accommodation because of the time constraints imposed by section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (2002), which is currently under review.

"The system simply isn’t working," says Dr Peter Dwyer, who led the research. "Successful asylum seekers often end up homeless because they are given only a short time to move from National Asylum Support (NASS) accommodation into mainstream social housing, which is in short supply."

The researchers found that the levels of social security benefits available to asylum seekers, currently worth 70% of income support, were set at levels that promote poverty and social exclusion. "What’s more, those who are denied asylum but are not sent home have no rights to welfare at all," says Peter Dwyer, "they simply disappear and the extent of destitution is hidden because of the clandestine nature of the problem. Individuals denied access to public support are increasingly having to rely on other migrants or charities."

Leeds is a particularly good site for a case study on welfare and forced migration because Yorkshire and Humberside has the highest regional population (20% of the UK total) of NASS accommodated asylum seekers. The year-long project examined the basic needs and coping strategies of 23 refugees and asylum seekers from nine countries, who had varying entitlement to benefits under current rules. The researchers also interviewed 11 people involved in the delivery of specialist welfare services.

Contrary to the image portrayed in some sections of the media, the findings reveal an overall picture where many forced migrants live in poverty and others experience poor housing and harassment from neighbours. One respondent described the leaking lavatories, collapsing ceiling and dangerous wiring in the home of a single woman asylum seeker with two babies. Another, whose application had been refused, said: "There is no way I can find money. In this country I’m not allowed to beg and I’m not allowed to work. I don’t even have accommodation to live in."

As a result of the data from the Leeds study, the researchers have called for a number of policy changes: <(p>
  • The government should end the use of section 55;
  • The benefits of asylum seekers on subsistence only benefits should be increased to the equivalent of 100% of income support;
  • NASS should ensure that all private housing contractors supply and maintain accommodation to a level that is fit for human habitation;
  • All housing contractors should record and respond effectively to incidents of racist harassment suffered by asylum seekers. This should include rapid rehousing for those who face physical violence and/or repeated abuse;
  • To combat homelessness, asylum seekers who receive a positive decision should have more time to switch from NASS to the mainstream welfare system.
  • Failed asylum seekers who are not returned by the government should be allowed to work or should receive adequate support as long as they remain in the UK.

Becky Gammon | EurekAlert!
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